Photography Tip #9:
Pay Attention to Your Background
Pay Attention to Your Background
What's in your photo? One way to improve your photography results is by changing your position to avoid distracting elements in your images. Sometimes moving to the left or right a few inches will change the lens view just enough to omit that garbage can, street sign or other distracting clutter from your photo. This means that the smart photographer must pay attention to everything in the frame and not just the focal point or subject matter. The point is that the things that shouldn't be in the photo often scream for attention louder than the subject itself.
Look for things like tree branches growing out of people's heads, patterns or colors that steal your subject's focus, shades or tones that match too closely with your subject or any clutter that de-emphasizes your subject. When shooting a portrait, novice photogs tend to look for wildly colorful, highly intricate or beautiful backgrounds for their subject. The problem with this approach is that the eye is conflicted; on what should it focus, the subject or the striking background?
Consider the two examples below. The wooden piling in the photo to the left looks like it belongs because it's expected in the context of a marina. However, the wires hanging from and alongside the piling are unattractive and lead the eye, along with the piling's reflection, in the wrong direction. By changing the photographer's position and re-framing things, we can effectively remove the pole. In the improved image on the right, the eye more easily leads to and rests on the pelicans. Note how the darker vertical reflection in the water, along with the motion ripples on the water tend to bring the eye to the birds. Also note how the closer cropping (or in-camera zooming) capitalizes on the desired focal point. This drive for simplicity can't be overstated if you are striving to produce professional level photography.
How good are you at noticing the various visual elements that are within a frame or field of view? It really doesn't matter whether you're on vacation, in your own back yard or on a busy street corner in NYC; there is clutter everywhere. Unfortunately, the camera lens does not discriminate between that which might look appealing and that which might be distasteful or merely distracting.
That's where your job comes in. If you have any inkling whatsoever about becoming a professional photographer, you need to sharpen your eye and your brain, so that you become increasingly aware of EVERYTHING in your environment.
Your clientele won't care a bit about a crumpled-up paper bag, broken skateboard, oddly-placed tree branch or some other potentially distracting element at the time his or her portrait is taken. However, they will certainly care about it if it ends-up in the frame. Unfortunately for the non-observant photog, even the most oblivious client turns into a very observant, picky and unhappy photo critic when the sitting and prints for which they have paid hard cash contain unwelcome distracting elements.
Beware of clutter - particularly if you are charging for your services! Even beginners charging deeply discounted fees for portfolio building must be aware of this.
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